Years ago, I sold a fish for $250 to a stranger. Yes, $250. As you might have guessed, this fish was no ordinary fish. It had glass eyes and a painted wooden body. Several years earlier, I had purchased this fish and another one like it at an estate sale–intending to use them as decorations. However, since I hadn’t done anything with the fish for a few years, I decided to list them on eBay so someone else could enjoy them.
I listed the first fish for .50 to see what it might sell for. In the listing, I described it as a painted wooden fish—nothing else. I took a picture and set it up for a 7-day auction. After two days, the bidding was up to $21. Halfway through the week, it was at $30. Seven days later, at the end of the auction, it had sold for $75! I couldn’t believe it. Why would someone pay $75 for an old wooden fish?
After the successful sale of the first fish, I decided to list the second fish. This second fish was painted red, white, and blue—Americana style. It, too, had glass eyes and was similar in size. I decided to do a little more research to learn what made the first wooden fish so special. What I discovered was that these fish were actually fish decoys–very collectible and highly sought after.
You see, carved fish decoys were one of the earliest forms of American folk art. When the Depression came in the 1930s, ice fishing became popular as a way for people to feed their families. Fishermen would cut a hole in the ice and use the wooden decoy to lure large fish (generally pike or sturgeons) within range of the hole. They would then spear the unsuspecting fish or catch it with a hook and line. Soon, factories started making fish decoys and carvers began offering their products to fishermen.
Once I learned this second fish was special, I decided to include a detailed description in the eBay listing this time—complete with measurements and 8 pictures showing every angle of the fish. After the auction was over, it had sold for $250! After making such a large return on my investment, you could say I was “hooked.”
After that, I started going to estate and yard sales more frequently, in hopes of finding more fish and other things to sell. Although I never found more wooden fish, I did find a lot of treasures over the years, and my home is filled with some of them.
Seven years ago, when I became a single Mom, I no longer had time to go to estate sales on the weekends. Instead, I began selling things around the house we were no longer using or nice clothing my kids had outgrown. Over time, my eBay income became our vacation and Christmas money.
Well, after a hiatus of visiting estate sales, this year, I decided to add “Find a treasure at an estate sale” to my List of 50 Things. I added it because estate sales used to bring me a lot of pleasure, and I wanted something to look forward to. Besides, I might find some more wooden fish!
However, as the summer progressed, I realized I was busier than I had planned and wondered if I’d even find the time to go. Well, fortunately for me, a few Saturdays ago, I was headed over to my sister-in-law’s and discovered an estate sale directly across from her house. Of course, I had to go and check it out.
As I approached the house, I began to feel the familiar tingling of excitement. What treasures would I find? At the door, I was greeted by a nice older woman who handed me a paper bag, instructed me where to go, and informed me they would consider all offers.
The first room I entered was a bedroom at the end of a long narrow hall. There, I found a mink purse marked $25 and an old letter opener marked $1.50. The letter opener was heavy for its size and had a decorative handle. I decided to pick it up, leaving the mink purse behind.
After exiting the bedroom, I made my way back down the narrow hall and found myself in a family room full of dishes, housewares, and knick-knacks. At first, nothing caught my eye. But then, in the corner, I spied a lovely large, round and blue platter and placed it carefully in the paper sack.
Eventually, I made my way to the exit to pay, ending up with a letter opener, a blue platter, a couple of dishes, some tiny glass cats, a magnifying glass, and some scissors. In total, I spent $31.
Although I didn’t end up finding a “treasure” like I had hoped, I did end up reliving some happy memories and picking up some things I needed. Hey, if you ever come across some wooden fish decoys, will you let me know?